Tag Archives: creativity

Innovate and Imitate: What’s Cooking at Tiny Church

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Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh

Our kids like to ask us, “Who invented ________?” Some of the answers are easy: Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Percy Spencer. (OK, we had to look up the last one—he invented the microwave.)

But inventions are hard to pin down to a single person or moment. Who invented the Internet? You could come up with a single name, but really it’s the product of a lot of discoveries and advances. Even big names like Bell and Edison and Spencer stood on the shoulders of people who came before.

Some months ago I read an article about how creative people are called to innovate and imitate. The article is long gone, but it went something like this: if there’s an approach out there that works, use it, even if competitors are doing the same thing. Imitate without shame the good stuff going on out there. Where you distinguish yourself is in how you innovate—how you make changes and improve on an idea, product or service.

Innovation is vital, but not everything needs to be innovated.

The key is to find the right balance and configuration of imitation and innovation so that you provide something unique, yet don’t wear yourself out reinventing the wheel.

This has played out at Tiny Church in a number of different ways. For example, in worship. I love crafting liturgy—writing prayers, thinking up cool interactive elements, and so forth. I also love preaching and crafting a strong sermon. But I simply don’t have the creative energy to do both.

Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s not much difference in people’s response when I knock myself out writing liturgy v. borrowing stuff. So for liturgy, I imitate. I grab things from the Internet and adapt them. I mine Pinterest and Theresa Cho’s blog. I incorporate prayers from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion.

But for the sermon, I innovate. That’s the piece of worship that gets my best creative self, because that’s the piece that people respond to. It also happens to be the element of worship I’m most passionate about… and I’m sure those things are related.

I suspect many of you do this as well. I sometimes feel a little guilty, like I should be crafting everything from scratch. (I feel guilt easily, have you noticed that?) The innovate/imitate balance helps me get over myself.

Another element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we’re in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our Journey to Jerusalem, in which we encouraged folks to walk, bike, run, swim, etc. and turn in their miles each week to see if we could make it from Falls Church to Jerusalem by Easter. I stole this idea, blatantly and unimaginatively, from someone at the Presbyterian CREDO Conference. I loved it because it connects the biblical story and our lives as pilgrimages with health and fitness.

Well, a funny thing happened. We got to Jerusalem and the next week people started asking, “I’ve got miles to turn in. Who do I give them to?” So when our transformation team met last week we decided to keep the journey going. We’re going to spend the rest of 2013 wandering around the world, plotting our paths using the big map in our fellowship hall. We have members who have lived all over the world so when we arrive at a place, we will experience something of life in that place. Our first stop will be the Democratic Republic of Congo where one of our members has traveled countless times with her job at USAID. We hope these stops will involve some kind of cultural experience, a learning about how Christians experience life and ministry in that place, and maybe even a mission opportunity that connects to that place. We have a general idea of where we’ll end up but we’re also going to be open to the Spirit.

(This idea came completely from the team and not from me, but I’m realizing now that these pilgrimage stops are akin to Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that features food from conflicted countries as a way of educating patrons about these places.)

Imitate… and innovate.

How are you doing this dance in your own context?

Link Love for Kids: Losing Your Marbles

Because Friday is a long way away to wait for link love… my second in an irregular series on kid-appropriate goodies on the Internet.

Seven Incredible Marble Machines — Paul Grundbacher (Colossal)

The girls and I attracted quite a crowd with these while waiting for choir to start yesterday. Several videos at the link above, but here’s a picture of just one of them. Enjoy.

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Would You Say I Have a Plethora of Friday Links?

Well friends,

It was two years ago this month that I started Couch to 5K, and tomorrow I run my first half marathon. Yeehaw! This week has been about catching up from all my out of town travel, tapering, and eating carbs. (Any excuse.) I’m sure I’ll check in afterwards and get all bloggy about it, but in the meantime… wish me luck!

As for link love, we have TONS of stuff this week. So I’ll just dump ’em here without too much comment. Enjoy:

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Objects Make of Paper — Colossal

Made of paper. Paper:

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Making Room for the Sabbath and Keeping it Holy — LGBT Weekly

A good primer, if for some reason you haven’t already gotten that from me…

How can we do this? There are a number of spiritual practices you might want to incorporate: daily devotions, weekly worship, eating right, exercise, acts of kindness, focused prayer.

There are also a number of Sabbath-day practices you might consider: going for a contemplative walk; having some friends over to play games; “unplugging” from your cell phone for a few hours; going for a drive on Sunday afternoon and showing up at somebody’s house at suppertime! OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea.

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Does Stress Hide Deeper Social Problems? — Time

Yes:

There’s no amount of counseling, kale, or yoga — even if these were available or affordable to everyone in the U.S. — that will alter the economic, political, and social forces that sustain poverty or war in the age of terrorism, or what we glibly call “work-family conflict.” We’re going to have to throw out the bath oil with the bath water if we’re going to tackle the social problems that actually create the stress we bemoan today.

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Creative Pro-Tip: Take Things Away Until You Cry — 99U

These made me think:

  • If you meet a person who cares about the same obscure things you do, hold on to them for dear life.

  • Start brave and brash: you can always make things more conservative, but it’s hard to make things more radical.

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Daring New Ideas from TED 2013 — Brene Brown

Brene’s picks for the best stuff this year. Links to three talks, including the one by Amanda Palmer that’s just stellar.

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The Economy of Punishment — Harvard Business Review

Quite simply, our fear prevents us from recognizing and finding appropriate channels for the talents of our criminal population. As a result, we have institutionalized a simple formula for dealing with such individuals: capture, punish and isolate.

This formula has become a curse, resulting in an epidemic of incarceration across the United States.

So how, as a society, do we develop new instincts towards criminals and what strategies can be effectively employed to reduce the rate of incarceration and the rate of recidivism?

Many gangsters are natural born innovators with restricted economic opportunities. Nobody understands this better than Catherine (Cat) Rohr, who quit her job in private equity to become a champion for the incarcerated. As she told us, “Initially I had this attitude that people in prison were the scum of the earth, that they were a waste of tax dollars.” But in getting to know the prison population better, Cat’s position began to change. “I suddenly realized I was meeting entrepreneurs in prison. That these guys who had run drug businesses had all these entrepreneurial characteristics like scrappiness, charisma, and real skills in leadership and management.” With this realization, Cat began a life committed to honoring the talents and skills of those in prison.

As part of this journey, Cat launched a program called Defy Ventures, in New York, that provides a business incubator for ex-offenders who then have an opportunity to compete for $150,000 in seed capital for their businesses. At the core of Cat’s program is a powerful acknowledgement of the skills and talents that former drug dealers and gang leaders possess. From there it’s just a matter of pivoting these street skills into the world of formal entrepreneurship. For many ex-cons, who face discrimination from employers after getting out of prison, Cat’s program offers an MBA-like training matched with exposure to leading entrepreneurs, investors, and potential employers.

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Top Secret Drum Corps — Colossal

A-ma-zing:

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Clare Booth Luce’s Advice to Her 18 Year Old Daughter — Brain Pickings

Includes links to other words of wisdom from authors and artists to their children.

“The main thing is to get what little happiness there is out of life in this wartorn world because ‘these are the good old days’ now.”

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Living with Less. A Lot Less — New York Times

Living with less as it’s described in this article means deciding what kind of person/family you’re going to be, in some sense. If you have no camping equipment, especially if you had camping equipment and you give it away, you’ve made a decision: we are not going to be a family that camps.

Nothing particularly wise there, just something that came to me as I read the article. I guess you could borrow stuff. But I do think that these discussions about simplifying are harder when you have children. Giving kids opportunities to try things necessitates acquiring the equipment required for them to try it. And when they lose interest, how do you know whether it’s temporary or permanent?

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Freelancing in the Digital Age — Andrew Sullivan

I’m now having to do a lot more negotiating and advocating for myself when it comes to money, so I found this discussion interesting:

A little while back, I was contributing a piece to a publication that I was thrilled to be writing for: high prestige, high visibility, great roster of fellow contributors. I was honored to be asked. And when the editor mentioned my fee, I was initially eager to say yes. But something told me to hold back (for once—I am usually a very poor negotiator). I thought about who else was contributing, what demands they or their agents might have made, the fact that there’s probably always wiggle room … and I typed this into an e-mail: “I’ll do it for whatever you pay Sam Lipsyte.”

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Letting Go — A Deeper Story

Written by my friend Troy Bronsink, who has a great new book out about creativity and the life of faith:

“We think that its best for Neighbors Abbey that you no longer be Presbyterian” were the words she said. But what I heard was: “Just 3 years in we’re backing out of our 7 year grant commitment, and now you have 6 months to double your annual fund raising from $25k to $50K.” It reminded me of the arrows I shot in scouting camp as a kid. Hers landing dead center.  Mine… well I’d pulled the string but there was no chance it was gonna go where I’d aimed. Not any more.  I didn’t even have to watch to find out.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. Peace be with you.

Friday Link Love: NEXT Church, Progressive Christians in Texas, Job Security and Creativity, and Sabbath

I’ve got lots of blogposts percolating right now, but I’m still in re-entry mode from the conference, so those will have to wait until next week. In the meantime:

319533_536892453022802_1621836130_nNEXT Church Blog Roundup — NEXT Church

Here is a roundup of posts about the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte. These give you an excellent taste of what that gathering was like. Presbyterians, mark your calendars for March 31-April 1, 2014 in Minneapolis.

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling — Aerogramme Writers’ Studio

Learn from the masters:

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

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Left, Behind: The Hidden Progressive Christian Community of Texas — Texas Observer

This is a story that needs to be told more. At a recent rally in against budget cuts to family-planning services and against the proposed sonogram law in Texas:

In the shade of the Confederate Soldiers monument, a woman stopped midsentence and turned to her friend. “Did they just say he’s a minister?” Behind her someone muttered, “Why would a Christian be speaking here?”

Why was it so hard to believe? Rigby is one of the most outspoken progressive pastors in Texas, but he’s not the only one. Last fall more than 350 religious leaders, most of them Christian, signed a Texas Freedom Network (TFN) pledge supporting women’s access to contraception. Some of the same clergy, and their congregants, advocate policies supporting the poor, immigrants, and gays and lesbians; oppose the death penalty; and draw clear connections between their faith and protection for the environment.

“I think the religious Left unquestionably exists,” says TFN’s Ryan Valentine, who coordinated the pro-contraception pledge. “It’s just never been as well organized or as prominent in policy fights in Texas as the Right.”

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The Key to Being a Creative Leader? Job Security — 99U

I want to write more about this next week as it relates to the church, but in the meantime:

In fact, a series of studies by psychologists Cameron Anderson and Adam Galinsky showed that when people felt powerful, they preferred riskier business plans with bigger potential rewards to more conservative plans, divulged more information, were more trusting during negotiations, chose to “hit” more often during a game of blackjack, and were even more likely to engage in unprotected sex during a one-night stand.

In other words: you are likely to be even more creative than you were when you felt relatively powerless.

When you are in power, you can be more innovative because you feel more comfortable and secure, and less sensitive to, or constrained by, what other people think of you.

Some of those behaviors lead to positive outcomes, as I’ll talk about next week. But I’m also thinking about “too big to fail” and the incredible risks Wall Street took with our economy. These studies suggest these bankers were influenced by the myth of their own invincibility.

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And now, three Sabbath-related posts:

Making Our Peace with Time: A Review of the Book Good Busy — Englewood Review of Books

Keeping the Sabbath… Radical — Mirabai Starr, Huffington Post

Why I Keep the Sabbath — Jana Riess, Religion News Service

 

Friday Link Love: Special Lists Edition

deb1654baf42ccffbe2f148ea6dd7c9dThis is my last planned post of 2012. Next week I am off to celebrate the radical and improbable incarnation of God, then Margaret’s birthday on 12/27, and my own on 1/2.

I’m a sucker for a good end-of-year list. FLL is light on links this week, but each of these offerings has tons of links within it, like web-based nesting dolls. Enjoy… and share your favorite end of year list in the comments.

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Top 20 Insights, Talks, and Quotables on Making Ideas Happen — 99U

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A Colossal Year: Top 15 Posts in 2012 — Colossal

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The Best of the Best List: 2012 Critics’ Top Books — The Daily Beast

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And while this isn’t a 2012-specific list, here’s a link to my most popular posts on this blog to tide you over until I return.

Point of personal privilege: on December 23 I enter my 10th year of blogging. My first blog is long decommissioned, but I give thanks for the connections made and insights gained from this medium. Blogging almost feels quaint now, given the connectional tools now at our disposal. Yet I love the (relatively) long-form genre that is the blog. And I thank you for your companionship over the years.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!